“Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.” Luke 12:43
In the second half of Luke 12, we find Jesus instructing the disciples about seeking His kingdom, spiritual readiness, and responsible stewardship. Beginning in verse 35, Jesus tells two back-to-back parables utilizing the imagery of master and servant that describe the consequences of being an unfaithful steward.
First is the parable of the expectant steward who waits for his master to return from a wedding. Jesus bases the parable on common Jewish wedding practices in which a groom gathers his groomsmen and fetches his bride at an unplanned time. The groom then escorts his bride and the entire bridal party to the wedding feast.
Jesus tells us in verse 35 that we should be like servants waiting for the groom, i.e., the master. We must be dressed and ready with our lamps burning when the master returns from the feast. We see a similar analogy in Matthew 24 with the parable of the ten virgins, both illustrating the need for spiritual readiness.
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning.” (v35, NKJ)
The Christian Standard Bible says, “Be ready for service, and keep your lamps lit.”
The master in this parable (as in most of the parables) is Jesus. It describes the future moment He returns to claim His church, what we know as “the rapture.” “Let your waist be girded” and “Be ready” refers to the long robes people wore in the first century. One would need to tuck it in their waist belt to allow one’s legs to move quickly.
Jesus is admonishing us to be ready for the day of His return because He is “coming at an hour you do not expect (v40).” Whoever the master finds dressed and ready will be rewarded (v37-38) with the fulfillment of His promise of eternal life.
The Responsible Steward
Following Jesus’ warning, Peter asks Him in verse 41 who it applies to—the disciples or everyone? Jesus does not answer him directly but launches immediately into a second parable in verses 42-48 to further clarify the importance of being a faithful steward and spiritually ready for His return.
“Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time?” (v41, CSB)
Jesus’ response does not seem to answer Peter’s question initially, but it does. His indirect answer indicates that His teaching is not only for those in positions of authority in the church but also for the congregation. It is both pastoral advice and general instruction for all believers.
This second parable describes the principle of accountable or responsible stewardship. Just as He did in the first parable, Jesus again describes the rewards of being spiritually ready. Whoever the master finds doing his job when he arrives home is blessed and will be put in charge of all the master’s possessions.
The hyperbolic parable means though the work we perform in the Lord’s service may be difficult, the rewards of heaven and eternal life are worth attaining (v43-44).
Consequences for Church Managers
The parable then flips to describe the consequences if one is not spiritually ready and not being a responsible steward. The first group of people Jesus describes are those who hide behind a position of authority (deacon, pastor, elder, etc.) but are secretly abusive, selfish, cruel, gluttonous, and do not bear good fruit.
If the manager (servant/steward) is foolish and unfaithful and assumes the master will never return, he will be in for a tragic shock.
“But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that servant’s master will come on a day he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful.” (v46, CSB)
In describing a servant who beats others and gets drunk, Jesus uses an illustration common in some Jewish parables, where the servant is tempted with gluttony while the master is away on a long journey. Usually, in these stories, the master returns to find the manager unprepared for his arrival, his other servants abused, and his house in an array, causing the master to punish the manager harshly. In the same way, those who choose to ignore the master’s (Jesus’) return will suffer grave judgment.
Other places in the gospels also describe the consequences as being put out of the house where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here, in verse 46, Jesus says they will be “cut to pieces.” Other translations say, “cut asunder.” Original manuscripts say, “cut in two.” God will place these unfaithful stewards with the unbelievers in hell on the day of the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).
Jesus’ explanation of the consequences of spiritual unreadiness and irresponsible stewardship would have struck an instant chord with those suffering under Roman rule. Roman masters had the power of life and death over their servants. If they mismanaged their master’s estate, the punishment typically incurred dismemberment and the death penalty.
Other Types of Poor Stewards
Jesus goes on to describe other degrees of unfaithfulness.
“And that servant who knew his master’s will and did not prepare himself or do according to his will shall be beaten with many stripes.” (v47, NKJ)
Here, in Luke 12:47, Jesus describes a second group of people who are willfully unprepared for the master’s return. They have heard the gospel and know they should be working to fulfill the master’s will and get spiritually ready, but they are not. Though they know the master will return, they willfully ignore it. These stewards are not abusive like those previously mentioned; nevertheless, they disobey. These are the ones God promises He will severely punish (though not cut into pieces.)
Jesus then mentions a third group of stewards—those who are not fully aware of the master’s will. These people may not have heard the entire gospel, rendering them ignorant. Jesus promises these people will receive a lighter punishment.
“But the one who did not know and did what deserved punishment will receive a light beating.” (v48a, CSB)
The apostle Paul confirms Jesus’ warning in Romans 2:12.
“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law.”
Those who never heard the gospel—even in the remotest parts of the earth—will still be judged for their disobedience in proportion to their limited knowledge. They are without excuse because God has written His law on everyone’s hearts.
“Declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
Ignorance is no excuse. Everyone is accountable and responsible for being good spiritual stewards of the gospel.
Degrees of Punishment
It is important to note that Jesus is not describing varying degrees of Christians in Luke 12:42-48 but degrees of unfaithful stewards within the church. They may have led people to Christ, tithed every paycheck, and repeatedly professed their faith. But if they abused their position, were lazy, or willfully ignorant, the Lord will place them in hell with the unbelievers, according to the magnitude of their offense (sin).
Other places in the New Testament also support Jesus’ declaration of different punishments in hell in proportion to one’s offense.
Matthew 11:23-24, “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades…But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
Matthew 10:15; Mark 6:11-12, “And whoever will not receive you nor hear you when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”
Hebrews 10:29, “How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
Luke 16 also describes a degree of punishment one might receive in hell for disobedience. Jesus tells a parable in verses 19-31, where a rich man is sent to hell while Lazarus, a poor man, goes to heaven. Once arriving, the rich man realizes his torment and calls Abraham for mercy and deliverance.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’” (Luke 16:24)
Hell is an actual place, and there will be degrees of punishment for one’s sins, especially for unfaithful stewards and spiritually irresponsible.
False Teachers, False Stewards
The harshest punishment especially applies to false teachers. The apostles routinely warn us in the New Testament about such people. Peter makes their fate very clear.
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21)
False teachers always develop their corruption within the church walls. They know the gospel but ultimately reject Jesus by corrupting the Scriptures, their morals, and godly judgment. Their religious behavior gives them an air of spirituality, often allowing them to escape detection. Their “wolf in sheep’s clothing” approach—whether they acknowledge it or not—is why believers must constantly be discerning regarding church leaders.
According to the apostle Peter, false teachers remain as such because they are “entangled” in the “pollutions of the world.” They turn away from the truth and attempt to persuade others to their way of thinking.
Peter says their end is worse than the first, which means the punishment for ignorance of righteousness would have been better than being the abusive steward who did not anticipate the master’s return and coming judgment. That unfaithful steward (in this case, false teachers) will be “cut to pieces” when God judges the secrets of men (Romans 2:16).
All are Accountable
Above all, the purpose of Jesus’ parable in Luke 12 is to encourage faithfulness and warn us of the consequences if we are not. Jesus summarizes His lesson (and Peter’s question) in verse 48 by reminding us of our spiritual responsibilities. The more we know, the greater our responsibility.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required. And from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected.” (v48b)
Though there are varying degrees of responsibilities, all believers are accountable. All believers must be spiritually ready for the master’s return. Verse 48 indicates those in ministerial positions are especially expected to be ready and held accountable for the treatment of their flock. But the lesson applies to us all. We are all responsible for correctly handling the gospel, even those less versed in it.
The Bible tells us the Lord will return in the blink of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:51) and like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). One day, faithful stewards will be caught up with Him in the clouds, where we will meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But we do not know the hour of Jesus’ return, not even Jesus.
“But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
“Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44)
Until the day of Jesus’ glorious return, we must be on guard and keep our lamps burning. We must gird our waists and be ready, striving to do everything we can to fulfill the master’s will. And we must obey His word, share it with others, bear good fruit, “take heed, watch, and pray (Mark 13:33).”
Sadly, those who do not will suffer an unbearable fate.
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